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20th Century Women
3.5/5
dir-scr Mike Mills
prd Anne Carey, Megan Ellison, Youree Henley
with Annette Bening, Lucas Jade Zumann, Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning, Billy Crudup, Alison Elliott, Thea Gill, Vitaly A LeBeau, Olivia Hone, Waleed Zuaiter, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Alia Shawkat
release US 25.Dec.16, UK 20.Jan.17
16/US Annapurna 1h58
20th Century Women
Be a man: Bening and Zumann

gerwig fanning crudup
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
20th Century Women Another loosely autobiographical comedy-drama from writer-director Mike Mills (see also Beginners), this film is packed with terrific characters and an attention to detail that brings its central themes to life in a meaningful, moving way. The film is packed with great roles for the actors, anchored by a particularly gorgeous performance from Annette Bening.

In 1979 Santa Barbara, 15-year-old Jamie (Zumann) lives with his mother Dorothea (Bening) in a huge old house she's fixing up with the help of her tenant William (Crudup). Since Jamie never knew his father, Dorothea is concerned that he doesn't know what it means to be a man, so she asks for help from 24-year-old photographer Abbie (Gerwig), who rents another room in the house, and Jamie's childhood friend Julie (Fanning), who is 17 and sparking an all-new new interest from Jamie. But his sudden blossoming causes Dorothea to be rather concerned.

The plot is refreshingly loose, consisting of a series of encounters between these characters and others, usually drawing comedy from their frank conversations about things people don't normally talk about in public, like menstruation and orgasms. The idea is that Jamie is learning about women in order to become a man, as he reads feminist books, asks bold questions and makes up his mind about what he wants, while the women around him continually meddle in the journey he is taking.

Bening is simply radiant as the open-minded Dorothea, a superb movie character who is contradictory and loveable. She's unflappable about most of the bigger issues, but continually gets stuck on the smaller ones. Both Gerwig and Fanning find all kinds of complexity in their roles as women who are still working out who they are as well. Remarkably, Zumann holds his own opposite these formidable actresses, revealing Jamie's internal odyssey with engaging charm. And Crudup is solid as a character who could easily have been simplistic, but isn't.

Of course, the lack of a proper plot leaves the film feeling like it meanders along amiably from moment to moment without much pace, so it begins to drag in the second hour. And it also becomes clear that the movie isn't building to any big discovery or catharsis; it will just roll on through a series of wonderfully awkward encounters and witty conversations that are a minefield of small lessons. The nice surprise is that we also learn something about ourselves in the process.

cert 15 themes, language, innuendo 24.Nov.16

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© 2016 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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